Bloomsburg University Students Work With Seeing Eye Dog Club
Bloomsburg, PA (03/26/2019) — Since they were small, Bloomsburg University students Kasey and Alyssa Theurer have watched their grandmother and aunt serve as volunteer Seeing Eye puppy raisers. Now the twin sisters from Harrisburg are serving as raisers themselves through the Seeing Eye Puppy Club through the Juniata Club, part of the 4-H organization.
Seeing Eye breeds and raises puppies to become Seeing Eye dogs. The group also trains Seeing Eye dogs to guide blind people; instructs visually handicapped people in the proper use, handling, and care of the dogs; and conducts and supports research on canine health and development.
"My aunt and my grandma have been volunteer puppy raisers for 20 years," says Alyssa."I've seen what they do and it's a good thing. I always wanted to do it, and now I can."
The sisters are working with Ernie, a seven-month-old Yellow Labrador Retriever. They got Ernie at seven weeks old and will have him until he is about 14-16 months old.
"It took us a year-and-a-halfto be able to be permitted to have him on campus," says Kasey. "Since he was a service animal but not for us, the university had to develop a new policy for situations like this one."
Previously, BU allowed for therapy or emotional support animal for someone who needed a dog themselves but now allow for a dog that is in training.
Kasey and Alyssa's responsibility is to teach Ernie simple commands like sit, lay down, and stay. The sisters also start some of the more extensive training of making him sit before crossing a street and having him look both ways.
"One of our main responsibilities is to socialize Ernie," says Alyssa. "Bringing Ernie to a college campus is the perfect place to raise a Seeing Eye dog because the dogs get to interact with different people every day."
After Ernie is officially done being raised by Kasey and Alyssa in a little over a year, he will then go to "Puppy College" in New Jersey, where he will receive more intense training for at least three months. When the training is complete, Ernie will be tested. If he passes his training and health exams, he's on his way to becoming someone's new Seeing Eye dog. If he fails, he continues to go through more training.
Sometimes, dogs will never pass these tests.
"Only 65 percent get matched, most of them don't make it because of health reasons," says Kasey.
"If he passes all of his tests, and his health exams then he'll be matched," says Alyssa.
"If he fails we could either take him back or he could potentially become a breeder. In this case, he'll still be trained, but he won't be matched with someone," says Kasey. "Or, since he has all this training, he could go to acanine unit to become a police dog."
"I want him to pass, but I'm also going to miss him. It's for a good cause and it's a good thing, you need to pass," says Alyssa to Ernie. "It's like being a proud mom."
While the sisters are raising a Labrador Retriever, there are other breeds that can be trained to be Seeing Eye dogs.
"Technicallythere are four different Seeing Eye dog breeds," says Kasey. "The Seeing Eye breeds German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and they also do crosses between a Golden Retriever and a Labrador Retriever. In the rare occasion that someone has allergies,they will sometimes offer Poodles."
In all cases, though, trainers have to remember one thing.
"The dog doesn't belong to us," says Alyssa. "We do not get to keep the dog forever."
"The organization always says the first dog is the hardest. You love them and everything like a normal dog but you know they're not yours," says Kasey. "I would also say having patience because they don't get everything right away and it takes a lot of repetition and patience. Positive reinforcement is a big thing."
To become a volunteer puppy raiser, one would have to reach out to the 4-H organization.
"Most 4-H clubs have a Seeing Eye Club. Or you can also visit theseeingeye.org," says Kasey.
"You go to meetings once a month," adds Alyssa.
"You have to apply online and if you get accepted they ask for you to puppy sit and participate in puppy training circles and then you get added onto a list," says Kasey.
"Being a volunteer puppy raiser is a privilege. It is nota right because it can prevent people from getting a dog to help them," says Alyssa.
While Ernie has a long way to go, he is on his way to helping someone in need. Kasey and Alyssa may have a long way to go as well, but they're doing the best they can to raise a pretty extraordinary dog.
Bloomsburg University is one of 14 universities in Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education. The university serves approximately 8,900 students, offering comprehensive programs of study in the colleges of Education, Business, Liberal Arts and Science and Technology.